Novel lipids in Myxococcus xanthus and their role in chemotaxis


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Organisms that colonize solid surfaces, like Myxococcus xanthus, use novel signalling systems to organize multicellular behaviour. Phosphatidylethanolamine (PE) containing the fatty acid 16:1ω5 (Δ11) elicits a chemotactic response. The phenomenon was examined by observing the effects of PE species with varying fatty acid pairings. Wild-type M. xanthus contains 17 different PE species under vegetative conditions and 19 at the midpoint of development; 13 of the 17 have an unsaturated fatty acid at the sn-1 position, a novelty among Proteobacteria. Myxococcus xanthus has two glycerol-3-phosphate acyltransferase (PlsB) homologues which add the sn-1 fatty acid. Each produces PE with 16:1 at the sn-1 position and supports growth and fruiting body development. Deletion of plsB1 (MXAN3288) results in more dramatic changes in PE species distribution than deletion of plsB2 (MXAN1675). PlsB2 has a putative N-terminal eukaryotic fatty acid reductase domain and may support both ether lipid synthesis and PE synthesis. Disruption of a single sn-2 acyltransferase homologue (PlsC, of which M. xanthus contains five) results in minor changes in membrane PE. Derivatization of purified PE extracts with dimethyldisulfide was used to determine the position of the double bonds in unsaturated fatty acids. The results suggest that Δ5 and Δ11 desaturases may create the double bonds after synthesis of the fatty acid. Phosphatidylethanolamine enriched for 16:1 at the sn-1 position stimulates chemotaxis more strongly than PE with 16:1 enriched at the sn-2 position. It appears that the deployment of a rare fatty acid (16:1ω5) at an unusual position (sn-1) has facilitated the evolution of a novel cell signal.